What is empathy, and how can we use it in our parenting styles?
Here is your ultimate guide to learning all about empathy and how to add this tool into your parenting toolbox.
What is Empathy?
In simple terms, empathy is genuinely feeling and understanding what another person feels on a deeper level.
It goes beyond feeling sad for the person. You focus so intently that you can feel everything that person feels as if it were your own feelings.
Empathy vs. Sympathy
Empathy is different than sympathy.
With sympathy, you are feeling sorry for someone for what they feel or are going through. It is kind of like just scratching the surface. We should all use sympathy, especially with our kids. However, empathy is more needed.
Empathy goes further and locates the true feelings and problems and takes them upon yourself. You not only feel for the person, but you experience it as well.
Why Use Empathy in Parenthood?
When used correctly, empathy is one, if not the top, most powerful tool you can use throughout your parenting.
Just as we, as adults, love to be heard and understood, children do as well. But it is also crucial for their development.
Using empathy as a parent helps you connect deeply with your child. They will know you are always there to listen and help them. If you practice using empathy when your kids are younger, they are more likely to come to you as a teenager or adult when they need help. They learn to trust you.
When you have empathy with your child, you are also developing them emotionally. You are setting the example to show them how to be kind and understanding to other people. You will instill in them a gift that will be needed in the years to come. And you will be doing this naturally and easily.
How to Use Empathy in Parenting
Now that you know the importance of using empathy with your children let’s look at a few ways to use empathy throughout parenthood!
1. After School Talks
Instead of simply asking the same old questions when your children get home from school, such as, “how was your day?” ask different questions. Don’t just ask; listen.
Asking a different question will help them become aware that you are trying to listen and learn from them. But the key is to listen and understand them. If they decide to answer with the usual “good,” you can take it a step further. Ask them what was good about their day, what made them happy, etc. Then, simply listen. Don’t try to solve anything; just listen. If they are still answering shallowly, you can ask deeper further questions. These questions will typically pop into your head after you listen with empathy while they are talking. If you do this diligently, you will soon start to see your child open up to you. They will want to share their days and emotions with you, and this will be something you treasure forever.
2. Bad Days
Using empathy is especially vital during hard times and bad days. Everyone will have bad days; it’s just a part of life.
Younger children, especially toddlers, will have many hard times, such as toddler tantrums. These tantrums are more than your child being upset. They are still learning how to share and understand their emotions appropriately. Allow all feelings in your home. Some days, showing empathy is simply holding your toddler while they scream and cry. Soon enough, they will know you are there and will feel much better.
3. Happy Days
This may seem a little off, but it is so important to still use empathy on the good days.
First off, using empathy even on days your child is happy will help you build a solid habit of using empathy all the time. It is much easier to use empathy when you are both comfortable and in a good spot. Happy days are the best time to practice empathy! This way, you will be all set when the difficult times come. And they will always come. So, prepare with the good days! Celebrating happy moments with empathy also will help your child connect with you. Children need recognition and to know you are there for them during good times as well.
4. Allow All Feelings
A significant component of empathy is simply allowing feelings. If you try to “fix” your child or solve their problems or negative emotions, you are not using empathy. Allowing all feelings helps your child learn their emotions.
Part of empathy is feeling safe. If you constrict their sad or angry emotions, they won’t want to come to you. They also won’t believe your empathy. So, allow all feelings! This includes your own feelings.
5. Give Yourself Empathy
You need to be empathetic with yourself.
As mentioned above, in the other ways to use empathy, the best way to use and teach empathy to your child is by leading the way! You will mess up and make mistakes. Allow your feelings, and feel exactly what you feel. Then, give yourself grace. Your child will see you be empathetic with yourself and will follow your example, and it will be beautiful to watch as they are kinder to themselves.
These are just a few ways to help you use empathy throughout your parenting journey. We must normalize empathy into our parenting styles. It is the best way to help our children grow into strong individuals who will change the world for the better!
I am Kate, the founder of kateable.com. After quitting my job due to pregnancy issues, I knew I needed to find something to help support my family. With my degree and background in psychology, I found my way to writing a blog. Blogging has created a huge passion for me to help moms and women get their mental health back in check and feel pure joy once again. I recently became an author of 10 Days to a Happier Mom, the first of many books in the series.